The battle against cancer demands energy, education, expenditure

Dear Editor,

Reference is made to the article captioned, ‘No record of treatment of nearly 80% of cancer cases over 10-year period’ (SN, May 17).  This is a daunting number; I thought that it would be much lower, perhaps around 40 per cent.  Two questions come to mind: Is this country doing enough?  And second, what more can be done?

The short answer to the first question is ‘No!’  The Ministry of Health assists cancer patients with subsidies for expensive treatments; there is an Oncology Unit at the GPHC; and there is also a privately-run facility at the same GPHC that offers many needed services, with most, if not all, on the prohibitively expensive side.  Together, this represents encouraging news of sorts in terms of availability, assistance, and access.

Then, there is the Periwinkle Cancer Club and the Cancer Society, which both perform yeoman work under tough restraining conditions; they try.  The Bank of Nova Scotia is a known and appreciated commercial presence and contributor; there are a handful of others.  In aggregate, these entities and the caring committed individuals behind them strive to make a difference through the power of helping, much needed hands.  Yet there is so much more distance to be travelled in this struggle, this journey, among so many other journeys.

First, the Oncology Unit at the GPHC is a cramped backwater, where on a busy day (the norm) sufferers and their companions are crowded together in jamming elbows proximity.  The area is a mass of equipment, white unformed staff, patients, and a single, solitary bathroom.  Not enough!  Not healthy!  Not comforting at a real bad time.  Surely there can be some relief. I humbly call upon the Minister of Public Health to step forward and locate some funds and additional space to bring some relief and dignity; some much needed drugs would be helpful, too.  The word is that some of this can only move forward as line items in the next national budget; now for all practical purposes, that is a year away, at a minimum, before any change to the unacceptable realities on the ground can occur.  I am aware that chemotherapy medicines can be costly, and there is government assistance through subsidies, but something has to give here: more funding, more partnerships, and lower returns for the private presences at the GPHC.

Additionally, it is my view that a greater commercial hand (many hands) is direly needed.  Converse with others: high or low, corporate or private, church or state and they know of, or have/had someone felled by cancer.  Yes, it has saturated this society to this extent.  Surely, all these survivors, these interested onlookers can be exhorted, be moved to step up and tangibly, meaningfully so.  I do not know if it is in the local tax code, but I would urge deduction for charitable contributions.  I hear and read of record profits, billion dollar profits, on the one hand; and, on the other, I am familiar with those who are unable to manage financially the range of treatments.  How about a corporate (as in partnership) cancer centre?

Yes, there is keen competition for scarce donor dollars and government funding, to address other plagues affecting this land.  Somehow, I am of the impression that cancer is the forgotten disease, the least whispered illness; that it attracts isolated private interest; and that this affliction stands near the back of the breadline to the devastation and eventual termination of those touched and overwhelmed.  I stand to be corrected here: it is not a high echelon priority.

Perhaps this explains why so many patients drop off the treatment records.  But I go further: The enormous number that disappears into the black hole of distance, absence, and fleeting memory are hampered by finances, superstitions, exploitation, education, and desolation.

Foremost, in many instances, the money is just not there, government hand notwithstanding; end of story, goodbye.  The fortunate ones saddled with this diagnosis can seek cures elsewhere, meaning overseas.  Next, superstition still runs rampant in this nation, as in shame, fear, and the ubiquitous “somebody duh dem something.”  This, of course, renders the psychologically and emotionally vulnerable more defenceless, and ready made for exploitation.  The exploiters come in different shades.

There is the dark side (spiritualists); the green side (herbs); and the far side (bush).  To the best of my knowledge, nobody has been saved thus far, including those supposedly doing the saving.  And there is the desolation: the denial, the giving up, the wretchedness, and the resignation to the believed inevitable that is near at hand and unwinnable.

In all of this, it is my belief that education is the key.  Cancer is not a death sentence.  It is not a ‘baad sick’ as Guyanese would say.  It is not cured by conversing with the dead, or feeding on grass, or imbibing toxins. There is help available.  There are caring dedicated practitioners; a treatment regimen that has to be followed (one only); alternative medicines may comfort psychologically, but they can injure physically.

These messages are neither getting across nor emphasized enough.  They are too minuscule, too sporadic, too muted.  Like everything else, the battle with cancer in this country (or anywhere) demands determined engagement, constant energy, ongoing education, and considerable expenditure, some of which are in short supply.  All can do more, should do more: government, business, and private citizens.  I regret to learn that so many in the cancer registry are no-shows for treatment, and thus fade into oblivion and perhaps eternity without putting up a good fight.  It does not have to be this way.  The question for all of us is this: how can I do more?

Yours faithfully,

GHK Lall

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